Why are some people more productive than others? And is it possible to get the slackers to kick it up a notch or two?
Business researchers recently looked at those kinds of questions and found there’s science (and a few good habits) behind why some people get more done in less time, and why others don’t.
Yep, work smarter, not harder
“First, working longer hours does not necessarily mean higher personal productivity,” say Harvard Business School researchers Robert Pozen and Kevin Downey. “Working smarter is the key to accomplishing more of your top priorities each day.”
That may not be a big research revelation – after all, we’ve heard “work smarter, not harder” for decades.
What’s really revealing are the habits, patterns and movements of the most productive people. Here are five – plus tips for those who might need help to pick up the pace.
Revise each day
The most productive people do more than plan their day. They revise daily schedules the night before each work day.
Even more important, they plan work based on their top priorities and then act throughout the day with a definitive goal. (Older and more senior workers are particularly good at this, researchers pointed out.)
Tip: Next to each activity or appointment on the daily plan, note an objective so no time is squandered.
Prepare for the overload
Productive employees – regardless of if they’re remote or on-site – don’t complain about and procrastinate around a high volume of work and information.
They manage time and tasks when others might be overwhelmed by the quantity that’s in front of them.
Tip 1: Use daily, usual routines – as small as getting dressed or eating breakfast – so you spend less time thinking about them and have more time and decision-making power to focus on the quantity of work.
Tip 2: Break larger projects and goals into smaller tasks and reward yourself when you complete each.
Be vigilant about meeting time
The most productive people waste little time in meetings: They either run efficient meetings or are effective participants (and researchers found women are particularly good at this).
Tip: Prepare or insist on an agenda. If it’s your meeting, send a detailed agenda to all attendees that includes the goals to accomplish ahead of time. If you’re asked to attend, ask how you’re expected to contribute and what the agenda is to determine if it’s a valuable use of your time.
Tame the message beast
Productive people cope better with a high volume of incoming messages and information than their peers. (Men are particularly good at this, researchers found.)
Tip 1: Check the screens on your devices once per hour, not every few minutes. (You really can do this!)
Tip 2: Skip the majority of messages – email, chat, text and social media – by looking at the subject and sender. If they aren’t pertinent to those objectives you set the night before, delete or delay.
Stop trying to cram it all in
Some of the most unproductive people are the busiest. They work longer hours and get less done because they fill their agenda and lose focus.
The most productive people actually leave gaps in their schedules to deal with emergencies and unplanned events.
Tip: Add the calendar gaps and make outlines for larger work tasks so when you’re interrupted you know exactly where to pick up.